Strictly Ballroom at Piccadilly Theatre
Strictly Ballroom the Musical hits the West End with a bang. Baz Luhrmann’s romantic comedy experiences an effervescent makeover in the hands of director and choreographer Drew McOnie.
Scott Hastings (Jonny Labey) is one of the favourites to win the Pan-Pacific Grand Prix Dancing Championship, but he wants to do it his own way: dancing his steps in original, unsanctioned sequences. In search of a partner willing to follow his desire, the performer finds a good match in Spanish enthusiast Fran (Zizi Strallen) – however, his new companion has to learn the routine in three weeks from the basics. When the battle for tradition versus creative freedom becomes a family matter, things turn quite emotional: Scott’s struggle is now harder as he has to decide between following the rules and winning the long-desired competition or following the new rhythm in his legs and being true to himself.
Despite the sentimental plot – which repeats well-known patterns of love, despair and revolution – McOnie pulls together different invigorating elements to make this a popping production. Considering the play came from an original film by Luhrmann, it is a pleasure to see how the songs and the dancing actually fit so well on the stage.
The dresses are glittering and bright, apt given the overall atmosphere – which stems from the realm of fantasy and not day-to-day life, as proposed in the 1992 movie. This surreal framing of the story still sets the piece in Australia, but the absurd twist allows the public to accept everything as part of a far, far away fairy tale.
The extravagant components – the lavish costumes, the sexual figures, the obsession with success – are smartly used to create paradoxes. The attempts Shirley Hastings (Anna Francolini) makes to reach the podium look hysterically funny, as does the ridiculous behaviour of Ken Railings (Gary Watson). The despotic head of the Australian Federation Barry Fife (Gerard Horan) assumes a Trumpesque appearance, while the new character of Wally Strand (Will Young) is a superb and lively host for the night.
The cast is made up of really good dancers, but Fernando Mira particularly stands out for his unexpected as spectacular Pasodoble sequence.
The star couple is not the exclusive focus of the piece; the show works because there is no over-sweetening of the romantic plot between the two, and a lot of space is given to the action happening around the other characters.
Finally, bringing the whole piece together – and also worthy of praise – is Strictly Ballroom’s engaging score, featuring remakes of Bowie’s Let’s Dance, Aretha Franklin’s Freedom, and the classic Paul Young’s Love Is in the Air.
Photo: Johan Persson
Strictly Ballroom is at Piccadilly Theatre from 25th April until 21st July 2018. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.